Digital transformation: the path to smarter, more intuitive technology that we’ve been carving for quite some time now. Whether it’s cloud, AI, 5G, or VR, you name it, it exists — and it’s likely abbreviated.
But moving to the cloud is only part of digital transformation. Automation is the next step, but is it the last one? At a certain point we devs must ask ourselves, how far is automation really helping us push forward?
The goal of this blog is to explore whether companies should stop at automation, or if the time has come to dive into full-blown orchestration on the cloud.
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What is cloud automation?
Cloud automation is the process of automating a single task on the cloud, taking that mundane job out of the hands of a dev and putting it into the wiry arms of a computer.
The goal of cloud automation is to make it easier for individuals and organizations to manage their cloud infrastructure through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) and configuration management software.
Pretty much any online activity or process from building code to paying your bills can be automated. Let’s take sending a newsletter as an example. If you’re looking to send out a regular email newsletter to your mailing list but don’t fancy doing this manually every week, you’ll be able to set up a process whereby it gets published automatically — simple.
But what this means in cloud terms is that when you decide to automate this process, you’re actually setting up triggers to add more compute power once existing instances are close to capacity — so your readership never misses an update. And this increase in compute power is specific to that individual instruction.
Software developers can use automation tools to create, deploy, and schedule cloud resources like storage and networking, without having to take on any of these tasks manually.
What is cloud orchestration?
Instead of setting up hundreds of individual automations, cloud orchestration seeks to create a more consistent, consolidated workflow in the cloud.
It’s the process of coordinating the deployment and management of cloud computing resources — including tasks like backing up data and testing applications.
Let’s take application-building as an example. If you’re building a web application to be deployed in the cloud, you’ll likely want to automate the process of managing a bunch of different components of the build, such as the web server and load balancer.
A cloud orchestration tool can help you to effectively automate every process. You can specify configurations like storage and networking requirements within the tool, using templates that define the app’s infrastructure.
This orchestration tool can also help with deployment and app management by automatically provisioning the necessary cloud resources for every component and allowing for any changes to be made as needed. For example, it will set up the web server and load balancer as specified in your templates, and it will provision additional resources as instructed.
It primarily helps DevOps teams by automating the laborious manual processes and ensuring that all available resources are used efficiently. It brings together multiple related workflows, automating different tasks needed to manage the operations of those workflows on the cloud.
But that sounds quite a lot like what we discussed with cloud automation, so what’s the difference?
Cloud automation vs cloud orchestration
Cloud automation and orchestration are (of course) related, but they refer to different aspects of cloud resource management.
Automation focuses on the singular; it’s all about automating specific tasks related to managing cloud resources like virtual machines and cloud storage.
But orchestration is a methodology that’s concerned with making sure everything works together, ensuring the coordination of cloud resource management. It brings together not just tasks but also the tools, processes, APIs, and other cloud resources to ensure that all the automated parts are working together.
In some cases, automation works just fine. However, automation lacks nuance and customizability. And this is where orchestration can change the game for DevOps teams.
So how does cloud orchestration work?
Think team sports, like soccer. Every player is great in their own right, and knows their way around a pitch just fine. But if a single player tries to take on the opponent by themselves, as much as they might like to take all the glory, most of the time it won’t end well.
Instead, members of the team work together, ensuring each of their functions and roles work well with those of everyone else in the group. So rather than 11 people randomly running around, you have a cohesive team that moves the ball perfectly.
That’s exactly what happens with cloud orchestration — it helps bring an otherwise confusing number of disjointed tasks together in alignment.
What does that actually mean? Well, instead of doing everything manually and individually, orchestration tools can be used to provision and scale different assets, deploy and update applications, and manage and configure all the cloud resources across a DevOps project.
Orchestration helps devs scale cloud resources up or down based on a set of both predefined and on-demand configurations. It lets teams build and test application code, as well as roll out application updates without taking too much dev time, and with minimal disruption to users.
It’s all about streamlining the maintenance of cloud resources and reducing the need for any intervention — so devs can get on with the important stuff.
What are the advantages of orchestration?
For software developers and DevOps teams, there are several benefits to using orchestration tools:
- Systematization – Gain greater control and visibility over cloud resources and processes.
- Acceleration – Instead of working separately, teams can get their tools working alongside one another to create processes that work faster.
- Flexibility – More control over your resources means greater flexibility in how you utilize them, resulting in more customized usage.
- Consistency – Orchestration ensures resources are deployed consistently, reducing errors and promoting easier management.
- Scalability – As you can scale resources up or down as needed, you can respond quickly to fluctuating workloads and demands.
When should I use orchestration?
The gold standard for knowing when to use orchestration is a simple self-assessment of your needs. When the demand for automation goes beyond separate tasks and into complex workflows, that’s when it’s time to think bigger.
For instance, cloud orchestration will be invaluable if your automated tasks are dependent on each other, shared resources, or specific users.
If you’re managing a large number of interconnected cloud resources, orchestration can help you manage all of these in one place.
Or perhaps you’re developing applications in the cloud, in which case orchestration can help you automate not only the build but also the testing and deployment stages.
You might even need assistance running mission-critical applications in the cloud; here, orchestration is perfect for ensuring that applications are up and running and that resources like storage and compute power can scale quickly, on demand.
If any of these examples apply to you or your DevOps team, it might be time to consider moving beyond individually automating your tasks and letting cloud orchestration take care of it all.
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